Are you an Executive Assistant (EA), with a challenging executive?  Are you constantly trying to keep them on track with their diary, project commitments and finding they are trying to self manage.  So frustrating isn’t it.  There you are making sure all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed, keeping all the challenges of the executive suite under control, and ‘the boss’ is blandly doing their own thing and not keeping you in the loop.  I can hear you sighing, or grinding your teeth as this scenario rings true.

So what can be done about it?  Scaring your executive into submission is one way, but it won’t win you a better working relationship, they would rather run a mile when they see you coming.  You could try using handcuffs and securing them to their desk, so that they can’t get away until they have accomplished their list of ‘urgent’ matters. I remember when I was working for a Business Development Manager, with four other people on the team.  It was Christmas time and the obligatory ‘santa gifts’ were given.  I received a pair of handcuffs, which caused quite a stir, as the message read ‘to be used on the BD Team members when required to keep them under control.  It was a hoot!

Being responsible for another person is not always easy.  An EA and their Executive should be known as “The Dynamic Duo’, working together to keep the wheels of the executive suite running efficiently, running smoothly; so that the Board, the executive team, staff and stakeholders can have confidence in what is happening ‘at the top’.  Business enterprises rely on a high level of competence from their executives, so it is essential that working relationships are effective.

But things go wrong don’t they.  When I was an EA, I would always approach my executive and state “We have a problem”. I would tell them what had occurred and what action had been taken to fix it.  Once the issue had been resolved I would go back and look at what the sequence of events were and how we could resolve, so that the issue did not reoccur.  Better to resolve quickly, and not resort to recriminations.  This way of handling difficult situations builds an EAs professional credibility, and shows strength of character; a valuable asset for the smooth operation of the executive suite.

Due to the many management styles there are in a business forum, it is essential for the EA  to understand the particular style of their executive, to enable them to be effective in their role. I have worked with so many executives, that it has always been interesting to understand the ways and means of working with each style.  It is certainly a learning curve in dealing with so many different personalities, and still achieving the outcomes of the office.  There are many idiosyncrasies that an executive can exhibit that will challenge even an experienced EA.   It is therefore important to build a solid working relationship, to discover how your executive wants you to work with them.  Once that confidence and rapport has been built, it is often possible to start to bring in suggestions that you feel will give better value for time expended.

Where an EA feels there is overlap of responsibilities between themselves and their executive, it would be wise to discuss so that ‘double dealing’ does not occur.  One small change could turn out to be the straw that breaks the camels back when it comes to dealing with important stakeholders.  There needs to be an agreement on the level of responsibility an EA is expected to initially undertake.  Once the executive is confident in their assistant’s ability to manage their office, delegation of other duties should be supported.   Why would a high level executive spend time on duties that could be more efficiently dealt with by a trustworthy assistant.  It just makes sense to delegate.

For an EA to be truly successful in their role, it is important to take the time necessary to build a high level working relationship with an executive, and of course that is also important for the Executive to understand the skills and expertise their assistant brings to the table.   Once that working relationship is firm, the EA role will start to change somewhat, from general support to more of a ‘managing up’ role, ensuring their executive is kept on track with their commitments.  This is when the true ‘Dynamic Duo’ comes into their own.  They understand the needs of each other to be successful in their respective roles, so by nurturing their working relationship early on, the executive suite will become ‘a well oiled machine’, that continues to operate, even through demanding circumstance.

There is definite ‘power’ in an EA role for those of you who understand what it takes to be highly successful. Using this power to effectively manage the ‘top’ executive is one that takes a high level of emotional intelligence, diligence and also empathy for the person being supported.  Wielding the whip, but with empathy is truly an art form.